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Fifth West Africa Task Force meeting strengthens regional collaboration to stop illegal fishing

Regional cooperation and collaboration were at the forefront of discussion during the fifth West Africa Task Force (WATF) meeting, held in Accra, Ghana from 7-9th November 2017. The six strong Task Force — drawn from member countries of the the Fisheries Committee for the West Central Gulf of Guinea (FCWC): Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria and Togo — identified key areas for future cooperation with at-sea transhipment and regional harmonization of licensing, penalties and access conditions considered to be priority areas for action.

Unauthorised at-sea transhipment enables illegal operators to maximize profits by: reducing time and fuel spent carrying fish to port; avoiding costs such as buying a licence; avoiding inspection of the catch, for example for prohibited species; avoiding inspection of the fishing vessel, for valid documentation or compliance to health and sanitary requirements; facilitation of broader fisheries crime; and by creating an environment conducive to crew labour abuse and human trafficking.

Duncan Copeland, Trygg Mat Tracking, said: “The WATF has been monitoring fisheries operations in the West Central Gulf of Guinea, and in the process we have identified numerous cases of potential at-sea transhipment – between industrial fishing vessels, between industrial fishing vessels and reefers, and between industrial fishing vessels and small-scale vessels. This is an issue for all of the WATF members, undermining traceability and management measures. By taking a shared regional approach we can tackle this issue head-on.”

Building on the WATF success in sharing information and intelligence and taking cooperative action, options for harmonising licensing, penalties and access to fisheries resources in the region were considered. Per Erik Bergh, Stop Illegal Fishing, shared experiences from other regions, “There is a growing awareness amongst coastal States that by standing together as a region countries can earn more from their fisheries and can also better protect against the damage caused by illegal operators.”

Opening the meeting, the Honourable Elizabeth Afoley Quaye, Minister Fisheries and Aquaculture Development, Ghana, noted the important role that fisheries play in West Africa, stating, “It must not be underestimated the value of fisheries to the region, both in terms of the number of livelihoods that depend on, and revolve around, fisheries, as well as the foreign interest and investment they generate.”

“Illegal activity, which includes transhipment at sea, use of illegal gears, and light fishing has been increasing recently with operators taking advantage of the weak capacity in our country and our region. We know that Ghana needs to cooperate and we have welcomed the approach of the West Africa Task Force where sharing information such as lists of licensed fishing vessels has shown real impact with the ability to better track vessel activity and to eliminate risk vessels from the region,” stated Minister Quaye.

Seraphin Dedi, Secretary General of the FCWC, reflected on the success of the collaboration that has been built within the WATF: “We have already achieved a lot but there is still more to do. We need to build on our regional approach as we can see it brings results, and we need to mobilise more partnerships.”

Godfrey Baidoo-Tsibu, Deputy Director at Fisheries Commission, Ghana, concluded the meeting by stating, “On our own, in our countries, we cannot resolve all the issues posed by illegal fishing – this is the essence of the FCWC which was created to help manage fisheries resources and make their value accrue to our countries. West Africa depends on fish, but until we make fisheries sustainable it means that all these people face the loss of their livelihoods. It is up to us to make it work.”

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